Two Books are Better than One as “A Novel Idea” Marks 18th Year

Posted By:  Dana OConnell
Date Posted:  3/15/2021

During a year in which many of us have explored our own backyards more than the broader world around us, the 2021 “A Novel Idea… Read Together” selections offer a chance to broaden our horizons and walk in the shoes of recent American immigrants. This April Deschutes Public Library kicks off a month-long slate of programs, centered on Laila Lalami’s The Other Americans and Kelly Yang’s Front Desk.

“Every year ‘A Novel Idea’ readers explore diverse issues and ideas by reading and discussing a book together,” said Deschutes Public Library Programs Supervisor Liz Goodrich. “In addition to Laila Lalami’s The Other Americans, this year we are adding a youth title to the project. Award-winning author Kelly Yang’s Front Desk provides the opportunity for young readers to engage in ‘A Novel Idea.’ Thought-provoking programming, book discussions and the final author event bring the selected title into sharper focus.”

In this 18th year of “A Novel Idea”—Oregon’s largest community read program—personal connection and acceptance feel more pertinent than ever. Both book selections, The Other Americans and Front Desk, share versions of the lived immigrant experience and reflect a blending of cultural identities. The Library is working more resourcefully than ever to meet the needs of all Deschutes County residents, from first-generation Americans to fifth-generation Oregonians.

“Rain, shine or pandemic, ‘A Novel Idea’ continues to have a larger footprint thanks to the virtual space,” said Goodrich. “We had a full year to fine-tune online events and they are getting better all the time. This paved the way for programming to stretch beyond our region as we travel to Joshua Tree National Park, hear from a Cal Poly Pomona professor on the 1981 Casablanca riots, marry authentic flavors with a live cooking workshop, and hear from many more experts in their fields. For young readers, we have Grab & Go Kits and a Dream Motel Design Contest. We of course include book discussions as well.”

Online programming for “A Novel Idea” begins on April 6, and culminates with live-streamed presentations featuring Laila Lalami on Sunday, May 2 at 4:00 p.m. and Kelly Yang on Saturday, May 1 at 4:00 p.m. All programs are presented online and are free of charge thanks to the support of the Deschutes Public Library Foundation. Reader’s guides are available online and at library locations.

A Novel Idea 2021 Programs

All programs are presented online. To access programs on Zoom, to view URLs for program recordings, or to register for programs, use the links below. Many programs will be available on YouTube for viewing after their initial premiere date. Programs with an asterisk (*) require registration.

Main Event: Author Laila Lalami | Sunday, May 2 at 4:00 p.m. | Live on YouTube
Join award-winning author Laila Lalami for a live presentation about her book The Other Americans, the “A Novel Idea” 2021 community read selection.  

Youth Edition: Author Kelly Yang | Saturday, May 1 at 4:00 p.m. | Live on YouTube
Join award-winning author Kelly Yang for a live presentation about her book Front Desk, the “A Novel Idea” 2021 Youth Edition selection.

Front Desk: Snail Mail Grab & Go Kit | Pick up kit starting Saturday, April 3

In Front Desk, Mia writes a lot… letters to her cousin, a complaint letter, assignments for school, and an essay for a contest. Now it’s your turn to put pen on paper and reconnect with a purpose through letter writing. Pick up a letter writing kit from any library location during business hours starting April 3. Supplies limited.

Joshua Tree National Park Ranger Talk* | Tuesday, April 6 at 6:30 p.m.

The desert landscape is a steady backdrop in The Other Americans, bringing solace and reprieve to Nora, and her late father Driss. Joshua Tree Park Rangers will talk about the unique desert ecosystem and highlight some plant and animal desert adaptations in the Mojave, while showing plants in their natural habitat. Registration required.

Front Desk: Let's Talk About It! | Wednesday, April 7 at 1:00 p.m.

Take your passion for Front Desk to the next level as Community Librarian Paige Bentley-Flannery walks young readers through discussion questions and resources for the novel. Feel empowered to join in the discussion, connect with other Mia Tang enthusiasts, and explore tools to start your own book club.

A Novel Idea-Inspired Quilt Show | Wednesday, April 7 at 6:00 p.m.

For the past decade, Central Oregon quilters have put their own spin on “A Novel Idea” selections. With the book as inspiration and fabric as their medium, watch as these artists create one-of-a-kind quilts that both delight and illuminate the book in unexpected ways.

The Library Book Club in Discussion with Laila Lalami* | Thursday, April 9 at 12:00 p.m.

Exciting news for book club fans: Laila Lalami, author of The Other Americans, will join the conversation as we discuss her literature with friends and neighbors. Space is limited and registration is required.

Front Desk: Dream Motel Design Challenge | Entry Information

Mia loves working at the Calivista Motel, but wishes that some things at the motel could be different and more inclusive. This is where you come in. Design a motel that is efficient, friendly and welcoming to all! To enter, email a photo of your design to by Friday, April 9; include a short statement about your design and the first name of the motel’s creator(s). Online voting will take place April 16-26 with the winners announced on April 28. Find more information at

Front Desk: Monopoly Grab & Go Kit* | Pick up kit on Saturday, April 10

Grab a friend or family member to play Mia’s favorite game, Monopoly! In this version, test your Front Desk knowledge, complete challenges, and stay out of the hospital to win. Supplies limited and registration is required.

Redmond High School Jazz Band | Sunday, April 11 at 4:00 p.m.

From a young age, Nora took an interest in music and later played in her high school’s jazz band. Like Nora, the students in Redmond’s High School’s Jazz Band are motivated not only by music, but by each other. Music teacher Ben Lawson shares past performances, favorite memories, and the important dynamic of playing together.

Front Desk: Talking to Children About Racism and Discrimination | Monday, April 12 at 6:00 p.m.

It is hard to be the new kid, especially for Mia, a recent immigrant. Hear from a local panel as they share tips and techniques for discussing racism, discrimination, and bullying with the children in your life. Reading this novel together is the perfect opportunity for parents to have meaningful conversations with their children.

1981 Casablanca & Contemporary Morocco* | Wednesday, April 14 at 6:00 p.m.

Driss Guerraoui and his family moved to the U.S. in the wake of Casablanca's 1981 protests and unrest. Dr. Mahmood Ibrahim, Professor Emeritus of History at California State Polytechnic University, uses the events in Casablanca to highlight aspects of Moroccan history as a way of explaining the riots and putting them in a contemporary Moroccan context. Registration required.

Reaping What You Sow: Refugee Caravans at the U.S.-Mexico Border* | Thursday, April 15, 6:00 at p.m.

Discover what history can tell us from the waves of people currently fleeing Central America and why the United States has a legal and moral responsibility to admit them as refugees. Dual citizen Tom O’Keefe of Stanford’s Center for Latin American Studies explores how Untied States policies shaped the current immigration crisis. Registration required.

Front Desk: Key Bookmark Grab and Go Kit | Pick up kit starting Saturday, April 17

Managing the motel keys are more than just a physical task for Mia, she learns friendship, family, and justice are also keys to success for a happy life. Decorate a bookmark with what is key in your life. Supplies limited.

Build Your Own Terrarium* | Saturday, April 17 at 1:00 p.m.

Roll up your sleeves and recreate the arid desert landscape Lalami paints through her writing with a mini Joshua-Tree-inspired ecosystem. Learn about the care and feeding of air plants with Community Librarian Roxanne Renteria. *Supplies limited and registration is required.

Merging Flavors: A Novel Idea Cooking Workshop* | Saturday, April 17 at 3:00 p.m.

Food offers a welcome sense of the home country to many characters in The Other Americans. Gather ingredients and cook delicious meals inspired by the book as Chef Rose Archer whisks us away on a culinary tour with two favorite recipes from Morocco and Mexico. Registration required.

PTSD: Symptoms and Treatment* | Monday, April 19 at 1:00 p.m.

One of the prominent voices in The Other Americans is Jeremy, a Marine veteran who served in Iraq. Both he and his unit buddy, Fierro, have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that manifests in different ways. Frachescha Scott, PhD will discuss whether the portrayal of PTSD in the novel is a realistic representation of patients with PTSD, and talk about resources for being able to identify different types of evidence-based trauma treatment.  Registration required.

Hearing in Color* | Saturday, April 22 at 7:00 p.m.

Journey into the experiences of a synesthete and learn what it is like to hear in color. Film and television composer Chris Thomas covers the experience of living with synesthesia (a very rare neurological condition in which one or more sensory pathways become intertwined), its impact on daily life, and how it can become part of the creative process. Participants will observe a work of art, and then listen to how it "sounds." Registration required.

Front Desk: Family Book Group| Saturday, April 24 at 11:00 a.m.

Technology makes it easy to join a book club and connect with other readers. Meet some friendly faces as Community Librarian Paige Bentley-Flannery leads the discussion of Front Desk by Kelly Yang.

Art Inspired by Art | Monday, April 26 at 6:00 p.m.

Explore artwork inspired by The Other Americans as created by COCC visual arts students. Under the guidance of Bill Cravis, his students have a chance to document the artistic process as they bring their works of art to life.

The Opioid Epidemic in America* | Tuesday, April 27 at 5:30 p.m.

Millions of Americans suffer from pain and opioids are often prescribed to treat their conditions. Opioid cultivation is a millennia-old practice, but only recently overuse and abuse has led to an epidemic of addiction and deaths. David Tauben, M.D., FACP, examines the history and influence of opioids, and educates on how their pain relief transformed into a national crisis. Registration required.

A Novel Idea Trivia | Thursday, April 29 at 6:00 p.m.

Let your literary intellect shine as Community Librarian Sami Kerzel quizzes the virtual space for “A Novel Idea”-inspired trivia. Team up with family or fly solo to see how well you know the books through a few rounds of head-scratching fun!

Book Club Discussions


About the Book: The Other Americans
Late one spring night, Driss Guerraoui, a Moroccan immigrant in California, is walking across a darkened intersection when he is struck by a speeding car. The repercussions of his death bring together a diverse cast of characters to tell their stories and the invisible connections that tie them together—even while they remain deeply divided by race, religion or class.

About the Author: Laila Lalami
Laila Lalami was born in Rabat and educated in Morocco, Great Britain and the United States. She is the author of four novels, including The Moor’s Account, which won the American Book Award, the Arab-American Book Award, the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. Her featured novel, The Other Americans, was a national bestseller and a finalist for the Kirkus Prize and the National Book Award in Fiction. She has received fellowships from the British Council, the Fulbright Program and the Guggenheim Foundation and is currently a professor of creative writing at the University of California at Riverside. Her new book, a work of nonfiction called Conditional Citizens, was published in September 2020.

About the Book: Front Desk
Front Desk is a debut, middle-grade novel about 10-year-old Mia Tang, who manages the front desk of a motel while her parents clean the rooms. As recent immigrants from China and desperate for work and money, they take a job managing a rundown motel in Southern California. The owner, Mr. Yao, is a crude cheapskate who exploits them; while her mother (who was an engineer in China) does the cleaning, Mia works the front desk and tries to cope with demanding customers and other recent immigrants.

About the Author: Kelly Yang
Kelly Yang was born in China and immigrated to America with her parents when she was six years old. Her family settled in Southern California, where she and her parents worked in three different motels. She eventually left the motels and went to college at the age of 13 and law school at the age of 17. After law school, she gave up law to pursue her passion of writing and teaching children writing. Yang is New York Times bestselling author of Front Desk, Three Keys, and Parachutes, and winner of the 2019 Asian Pacific American Award for Literature. She is the founder of The Kelly Yang Project, a leading writing and debating program for kids in Asia.

About the Donors

“A Novel Idea” is made possible by generous donors: Lonza Pharma & Biotech; Oregon Cultural Trust; The Roundhouse Foundation; RBC Foundation; US Bank Foundation; The EH & ME Bowerman Fund at The Oregon Community Foundation; and our five Friends of the Library Organizations in Bend, La Pine, Redmond, Sisters and Sunriver. This program is supported by the Oregon Cultural Trust.


Page Last Modified Wednesday, March 8, 2023